Returned, then Burnt: Iowa Libraries, Contagion, and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic
Libraries provide fruitful avenues for research into historical reactions to outbreaks of disease. The 1918 influenza pandemic coincided with a shift in approaches to library materials that were thought to be contaminated. Earlier in the century, objects kept in the homes of affected persons were destroyed in order to prevent the spread of disease, but around the time of the pandemic, the threat posed by these materials was increasingly considered inconsequential. Using the records created by five eastern Iowa public libraries, this paper explores this telling shift in library procedure and situates it within the broader context of changing approaches to contagion and disease.
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